With the teams so closely matched, Brantford Bisons bantam head coach Brad Spencer had a feeling that the first team to score would have a significant advantage.
Unfortunately for the home team at Bisons Alumni Field on Saturday morning, it was the Burlington Stampeders that punched in the game's first score en route to a 28-7 semifinal victory in the Ontario Football Conference playoffs.
"Running is their strength," Spencer said of the Stampeders attack. "I knew as soon as they got up in this game they would try to run the ball and kill the clock. It was a good coaching decision on their part."
The loss was the Bisons first of the season, having beaten the Stampeders 35-27 in the regular season just three weeks earlier.
The Stampeders take bragging rights in the bantam Doug Dittmer Division and will meet the Peterborough Wolverines from the Mike Ramsey Division in the provincial OFC championship.
The Stampeders punched in a score on their second possession at 9:09 of the first quarter.
"When we played them in Burlington, they tried to pass the ball and we intercepted them four times," Spencer said. "Even in this game, they threw the ball once in the first quarter and we intercepted."
The Stampeders stuck to the ground attack after that, using running back Jaden Bailey on first and second downs and switching to Myles Manalo on third and fourth downs.
"(Manalo) as a fullback is a big boy," Spencer said. "And (Bailey) is an excellent tailback and has some size as well. They are a physically bigger team than us."
It didn't help the Bisons fortunes that key player Ryan Isenor was injured during the game.
The offence didn't convert a first down until midway through the second quarter.
With time winding down in the first half, the Bisons got on the board after Hadden Hammill hauled in a 24-yard pass to put the Bisons on the Stampeders' 21-yard line.
Isenor took the snap, rolled out of the pocket and ran through the entire Stampeder's defence to put six points on the board with 1:10 remaining until halftime. Hammill hit the extra point to tie it 7-7.
But the Stampeders knew what to do in the second half and came out charging with Bailey on the ball. He ran for two consecutive first downs, rested for a play, then ran in a 43-yard touchdown to make it 13-7 after Burlington missed the extra point.
Burlington stayed with the running game and Bailey kept churning out yards.
Whenever Bailey needed a rest or the situation called for a short yardage gain, Manalo would come in and break a few tackles for first downs.
Manalo scored to make it 20-7 after 11:14 of the third quarter had elapsed. Bailey scored just 2:46 into the fourth quarter to make it 27-7.
The final was 28-7 after the referees gave the Stampeders a rouge on a missed field goal with 1:20 to play.
"There is no dishonour in losing to a better team and (Burlington) was the better team in this game," Spencer said. "They came better prepared and they were victorious."
The core of the Bisons team will come back together again this fall as the house league football season begins.
The bantam team won the Southwestern Ontario Football Association of Leagues championship last season, but will face new competition in the coming campaign as the Bisons have signed on as part of a league merger. The SOFAL league will be joining the Central Ontario Minor Football League.
Many of the older players on the bantam team will be headed into high school football as juniors with the Brant teams.